Latvia’s parliament approved yesterday with 70 votes in favor, 24 against, and six not voting, the new government headed by Andris Skele, a young and prominent businessman who does not belong to any party. The government is comprised of representatives of six out of the parliament’s nine parties and blocs, notably excluding the Socialist Party and the populist Siegerist party (People’s Movement for Latvia) which had scored a big upset in the recent elections. The left-of-center Owners’ Democratic Party which placed first in the elections, the right-of-center Latvia’s Way, and the rightist Fatherland and Freedom bloc hold a deputy prime ministership each; Valdis Birkavs of Latvia’s Way remains Foreign Minister; the Conservatives’ Andrejs Krastins is the new defense minister; and Latvian Unity Party (the former reform communists) leader Alberts Kauls becomes Agriculture minister, after having been denied the right to run for a parliamentary seat because of his former position in the CPSU as an adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev. (18) The new government’s program envisages monetary stability, balancing the state budget, creating a real estate market open to international participation, agricultural protection through tariffs and subsidies, improving the investment climate, no changes to citizenship and naturalization legislation, efforts to join the European Union and prepare for accession to NATO, and pursuit of Russian recognition of the fact that the USSR occupied Latvia in 1940 by force.
Skele has promised to cease business activities for the duration of his term as prime minister in order to avoid a conflict of interest. (For a profile of Skele see Monitor, December 15) The formation of this government overcomes the bloc system in parliament. The September 30-October 1 election produced a polarized parliament, whose 100 seats were almost evenly divided among the National Bloc of rightist and right-of.-center parties and the National Conciliation Bloc of left-of-center and leftist parties. The blocs defeated each other’s attempts to form bloc-based governments. President Guntis Ulmanis and parliamentary leaders then decided to try a broadly-based coalition. The Owners’ Democratic Party, which placed first in that election but whose dedication to the free market and an unambiguous Western orientation has been open to some doubt, appears safely flanked by parties fully dedicated to those principles.
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